Hart on Calvinism

I finished Darryl Hart's Calvinism: A History last week.  While I am set to provide a thorough review for the Westminster Theological Journal, I want to give a few brief comments now as this is a very fine book which will be a standard text in the field and would make a great read in the dying days of summer.  This is not so much because it breaks new ground in terms of material or argument; but the sheer scope of the narrative is unparalleled and thus the volume gives the reader more information on more Calvinistic history than any other text of which I am aware.

Taking the story from the Reformation to the present day, Hart revisits ground that will be familiar to many -- Calvin's Geneva, Knox's Scotland -- but also deals among other things with Hungary, with the late Reformation conflicts between Reformed and Lutherans, with the birth of modern missions, with South Africa, with Barth and with the Confession of 1967.  Predictably, the best chapter is on the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, and Hart once again makes a compelling case (which he has worked out more elaborately elsewhere) that the tragedy of Princeton was not initially at least about the triumph of liberalism but rather about the encroachment of broad evangelicalism which downplayed differences for the sake of being, to use an anachronistic phrase, gospel centred.   There is a sombre lesson there for the YRR.

Baptists will no doubt be disappointed that they are paid very little attention.  Bunyan receives some honourable mentions, as do Roger Williams and William Carey, but John Gill, perhaps the one great, though not particularly original, baptist contributor to Reformed Orthodoxy, is absent.   Given the title of the book -- 'Calvinism,' rather than Reformed -- this lack is perhaps a little surprising even from DG.  Certainly in England it was the Strict and Particular Baptists who were largely responsible for keeping Calvinism (soteriologically defined) alive even as English Presbyterianism rapidly degenerated into Unitarianism.  It is doubtless true that baptists have made very little theological or ecclesiological contribution to Calvinism, being content by and large to plunder the Egyptians (aka Presbyterians and Congregationalists) for their doctrines, their confessions and their church orders; but they certainly provided significant preachers.  That Spurgeon is absent from the story is thus a disappointment; though this merely whets my appetite for the forthcoming tome from Thomas J. Nettles.

All in all, this is a goldmine and a delightful read.  For those who are Presbyterian and Reformed in the confessional sense, this is a book that explains who we are and why we think the way we do.  Reformed Baptists too will find much here to enjoy, if they can forgive Darryl for apparently forgetting that they exist.   For others, I  hope it might tempt them to move beyond the "urban megachurch meets celebrity meets 3 or more points of Calvinism" culture which currently rules the conservative evangelical wave, to something with deeper historic roots and, more importantly, deeper theology and ecclesiology.

One last point: Herman Hoeksema would turn in his grave to think that Darryl has marked him down as an infralapsarian.  I thus await with some excitement the review in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal.  Should be a white knuckle ride, that one.